An Interview with Christina Katz
Author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform & Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zines for five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speaker at writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).
Q: What is a platform?
CK: Long story short: Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.
A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Get Known explains in plain English, without buzzwords, how any writer can stand out from the crowd of other writers and get the book deal. The book clears an easy-to-follow path through a formerly confusing forest of ideas so any writer can do the necessary platform development they need to do.
Q: Why is platform development important for writers today?
CK: Learning about and working on a solid platform plan gives writers an edge. Agents and editors have known this for years and have been looking for platform-strong writers and getting them book deals. But from the writer’s point-of-view, there has not been enough information on platform development to help unprepared writers put their best platform forward.
Now suddenly, there is a flood of information on platform, not all necessarily comprehensive, useful or well organized for folks who don’t have a platform yet. Writers can promote themselves in a gradual, grounded manner without feeling like they are selling out. I do it, I teach other writers to do it, I write about it on an ongoing basis, and I encourage all writers to heed the trend. And hopefully, I communicate how in a practical, step-by-step manner that can serve any writer. Because ultimately, before you actively begin promoting yourself, platform development is an inside job requiring concentration, thoughtfulness and a consideration of personal values.
Q: How did you come to write Get Known Before the Book Deal?
CK: I already had a lot of momentum going when I got the deal for a very specific audience. I wrote a column on the topic for the Willamette Writer’s newsletter. Then I started speaking on platform. When I gave my presentation, “Get Known Before the Book Deal,” at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference in May 2007, Phil Sexton, one of my publisher’s sales guys, saw it and suggested making the concept into a book. Coincidentally, I was trying to come up with an idea for my second book at that time and had just struck out with what I thought were my three best ideas. My editor, Jane Friedman agreed with Phil. That was two votes from people sitting on the pub board. They converted the others with the help of my proposal, and Get Known got the green light.
Q: Why was a book on platform development needed?
CK: Writers often underestimate how important platform is and they often don’t leverage the platform they already have enough. At every conference I presented, I took polls and found that about 50 percent of attendees expressed a desire for a clearer understanding of platform. Some were completely in the dark about it, even though they were attending a conference in hopes of landing a book deal. Since book deals are granted based largely on the impressiveness of a writer’s platform, I noticed a communication gap that needed to be addressed.
My intention was that Get Known would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference, and that it would increase any writer’s chances of landing a book deal whether they pitched in-person or by query. As I wrote the book, I saw online how this type of information was being offered as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can even ask your library to order it and read it for free.
Q: What is the key idea behind Get Known Before the Book Deal?
CK: Getting known doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take an in-depth understanding of platform, and then the investment of time, skills and consistent effort to build one. Marketing experience and technological expertise are also not necessary. I show how to avoid the biggest time and money-waster, which is not understanding who your platform is for and why – and hopefully save writers from the confusion and inertia that can result from either information overload or not taking the big picture into account before they jump into writing for traditional publication.
Often writers with weak platforms are over-confident that they can impress agents and editors, while others with decent platforms are under-confident or aren’t stressing their platform-strength enough. Writers have to wear so many hats these days, we can use all the help we can get. Platform development is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyone can do it, but most don’t or won’t because they either don’t understand what is being asked for, or they haven’t overcome their own resistance to the idea. Get Known offers a concrete plan that can help any writer make gains in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive publishing landscape.
Q: What is the structure of the book and why did you choose it?
CK: Writer Mama was written in small, easy-to-digest chunks so busy new moms could stick it in a diaper bag and read it in the nooks and crannies of the day. Get Known is a bit more prosaic, especially in the early chapters. Most of the platform books already out there were only for authors, not writers or aspiring authors. To make platform evolution easy to comprehend, I had to dial the concepts back to the beginning and talk about what it’s like to try and find your place in the world as an author way before you’ve signed a contract, even before you’ve written a book proposal. No one had done that before in a book for writers. I felt writers needed a context in which to chart a course towards platform development that would not be completely overwhelming.
Introducing platform concepts to writers gives them the key information they need to succeed at pitching an agent either via query or in-person, making this a good book for a writer to read before writing a book proposal. Get Known has three sections: section one is mostly stories and cautionary tales, section two has a lot of to-do lists any writer should be able to use, and section three is how to articulate your platform clearly and concisely so you won’t waste a single minute wondering if you are on the right track.
Q: At the front of Get Known, you discuss four phases of the authoring process. What are they?
CK: First comes the platform development and building phase. Second comes the book proposal development phase (or if you are writing fiction, the book-writing phase). Third, comes the actual writing of the book (for fiction writers this is likely the re-writing of the book). And finally, once the book is published, comes the book marketing and promoting phase.
Many first-time authors scramble once they get a book deal if they haven’t done a thorough job on the platform development phase. Writers who already have a platform have influence with a fan base, and they can leverage that influence no matter what kind of book they write. Writing a book is a lot easier if you are not struggling to find readers for the book at the same time. Again, agents and editors have known this for a long time.
Q: What are some common platform mistakes writers make?
CK: Here are a few:
- They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
- They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
- They confuse socializing with platform development.
- They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
- They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
- They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
- They undervalue the platform they already have.
- They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
- They become exhausted from trying to figure out platform as they go.
- They pay for “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
- They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.
I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.
My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them. Get Known shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there.
Q: What are three things our readers can do today to get started building their platforms?
CK: Don’t start building your platform until you have clarity and focus. Otherwise you will likely just waste your precious time spinning your wheels. Or worse, fritter away your time with online distractions (and trust me, there are plenty!).
But once you know what your expertise is and what you are doing with it and for whom, then consider these three steps:
Start an e-mail list: Who are the people who like to hear about your writing success? Why not start a list in your address book with them and keep adding to it as time goes by. You can start by sending out simple regular announcements of good things that happen—just be sure to get permission. One way to get permission is to send an announcement about your work out to everyone you know and tell them that they can unsubscribe if they don’t want to be receive future messages from you on the topic. I strongly recommend that all writers read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.
Create a simple website: Although social networking is fun, a proper writer’s website is not a Facebook or a Myspace page; it’s not even a blog. So save the detailed descriptions of your quirks and faves for the social networking you will do after you’ve built yourself a solid website to publicize your genuine writing credentials (creds) across the ethers while you are sleeping. And if you don’t have any genuine writing creds yet, getting some is an important first step. The step-by-step instructions are in Get Known.
Blog when it makes sense: Blogging can be great for writers assuming three things: 1) You have ample material to draw on and time to blog regularly. 2) You take the time to determine your appropriate audience, topic and your specific slant (or take) on your topic for your specific audience. 3) You don’t plan on starting a blog, blogging like mad for six weeks, and then disappearing from the face of the blogosphere without a trace. Preparation can prevent this common pitfall from happening to you.
Don’t forget that platform development and building takes time. Once you are ready to get started, just do a little every day and you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish over time.